A SENIOR SNP figure has said the party needs to conduct “an honest assessment” of why it lost so many MPs at the last election as it chooses a new deputy leader.

Pete Wishart MP – who said he was taking soundings on running for the position – said it had to “better understand” why so many independence supporters were reluctant to back the SNP in last year’s poll.

He suggested a shift away from simply “extolling the virtues of an EU” some voters feel alienated from, instead arguing for a new way forward that would “enlist” those SNP voters who wanted Brexit.

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Mr Wishart, who is chair of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, argued for a “graduated approach” that would only see an independent Scotland rejoining the EU in stages, and with the full consent of the Scottish Parliament.

His comments come as transport minister Humza Yousaf ruled himself out of the deputy leadership race, insisting he had “struck a decent work-life balance” for the first time in many years and wanted to spent more time with loved ones.

Writing in pro-independence newspaper The National, Mr Wishart – a former member of Scottish rock bands Runrig and Big Country – said: “I have already argued that we need to craft a brand new independence offering meeting the realities of where we find ourselves within a UK hurtling disastrously out of the European Union.

“The White Paper of the last referendum is now a historical document for another political era. A new case needs to be urgently constructed.”

He rejected claims from some within his party that the next deputy leader should be based in Westminster to ensure balance, arguing the role should go to “the candidate who has the best vision for the party and the best ideas”.

A long-serving MP, Mr Wishart is the SNP's Commons leader and has previously come under fire for his outspoken use of social media, such as comparing Blairites to an “incontinent old relative”.

The SNP’s new deputy leader is expected to be announced at the party’s conference in Aberdeen in June, with nominations opening next month.

James Dornan MSP is so far the only candidate to announce his intention to stand, but SNP insiders said it was “pretty obvious” Westminster leader Ian Blackford would put his name forward.

Others considering their position include former comedy club boss Tommy Sheppard MP and Joanna Cherry MP, a QC.

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, is also expected to stand, as well as the party’s UK health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford and Ivan McKee, the Glasgow Provan MSP.

Mr Sheppard – who confirmed he was “seriously considering” seeking nominations – said local activists, councillors and former politicians should all be encouraged to put their names forward.

He said anybody could stand under SNP rules, and warned against creating “mood music where it’s just MPs and MSPs who should be thought about for this”.

Mr Yousaf said there were "many reasons" he was ruling himself out, insisting he "wouldn't have enough hours in the day".